His background is Catholic and Hindu — now he’s a popular Yiddish educator

For London-based Peter Udeshi, hearing a Yiddish cover version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah prompted an unusual journey of discovery


Having been baptised (but not confirmed) as a Catholic, London-based Peter Udeshi’s path to becoming a popular Yiddish teacher is an unlikely one.

The son of an Austrian mother and a Hindu Zanzibari-Indian father, he was born and raised in Hong Kong, speaking German with his mother and English with his father. Three years ago, at the age of 41, he was listening to a cover version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah on YouTube. The option of similar tracks included Daniel Kahn’s Yiddish cover of the song.

“It was the first time I had heard Yiddish spoken or sung,” Mr Udeshi recalled. “I was already aware of the similarities between the Viennese dialect of German and Yiddish.

“A New Yorker once remarked to me that he had been in transit at Vienna Airport and felt that everyone around him was speaking Yiddish, as the Viennese-German dialect he had heard sounded like the Yiddish he knew from Brooklyn.”

As he had mastered the traditional Chinese alphabet, Mr Udeshi was undaunted by a new language challenge. Aside from linguistic curiosity, there was a motivation closer to home. “My maternal great-grandmother’s surname was Weisz and we think that there is possibly some Hungarian Jewish ancestry in my family. I therefore feel personally connected to the Jewish religion and culture.”

His Instagram account, Yiddish Discovery, offers followers not only the opportunity to learn Yiddish words but also their background and context and, where relevant, their links to Hebrew.

“I realised that more than three million of those killed in the Shoah were Yiddish-speakers. So I think the conscious act of learning Yiddish words and something about their socio-historic cultural background would be healing work on some level. I believe the more people who learn Yiddish the better. Keeping it alive and vibrant would be a great mitzvah.”

His account has attracted a global following with fans including Dr Jonathan Kaplan of Sydney, who said it offered “a refreshing approach to the Yiddish language, situating it within the wider world — in this case, British and Austrian culture”.

An American fan is Shoah educator Nika Faust, who enjoys the Instagram posts for their language information and historical context, “stunning photography and delightful commentary”.

When not furthering the cause of Yiddish, Mr Udeshi works in his brother’s clothing business, trying to strengthen the London-Vienna fashion connection.

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